US Senator Chuck Schumer meets with US Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland at United States Capitol
It’s pretty much a safe bet that Federal Judge Merrick Garland will become the next Attorney General in the Biden administration. The former Supreme Court nominee under President Obama, whose confirmation hearing in the Senate was blocked by the Republican party, is viewed more favorably by the industry than former AGs Jeff Sessions and William Barr — both longtime foes of cannabis who spoke out against legalization.
As Attorney General, Merrick Garland has the power to take the reins of rescheduling cannabis — yet he cannot pull it off of Schedule I all on his own. Nine years ago, at a federal hearing on the scheduling of cannabis, advocates argued that the DEA has a bias against cannabis and as such considers it an abusive drug with no medical value. In the questioning, Judge Garland sided with the DEA:
“Don’t we have to defer to their judgment on what the medical studies show? We’re not scientists. They are.”
The three-judge panel denied the advocacy group’s petition. While Judge Garland did not write the majority decision, he did side with its finding that the DEA’s scheduling of cannabis was not “arbitrary and capricious … because DEA regulations define ‘currently accepted medical use’ to require, among other things, ‘adequate and well-controlled studies proving efficacy.”
Now that it’s 2021, the jury is out whether or not Judge Garland supports rescheduling cannabis to Schedule II at the least, if not III, IV or V. There is no decision that shows his leanings on state-legal cannabis, and even if he was a staunch advocate of change, an Attorney General can’t simply bend existing law, only enforce it.
Although the Democrat party as a whole is presumably in favor of legalization, President Biden has never publicly altered his official opposition stance, although he has expressed support for reclassification to Schedule II. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has declared that passage of the MORE Act will be a major priority now that Democrats control both sides of the Capitol; however, the Senate Republican minority can still work to delay legislation efforts. It’s certain that Merrick Garland will be asked about cannabis legalization when his confirmation hearings take place, and we may be able to have more of a definitive answer then. Regardless of what we hear, there’s comfort in the realization that the new Democratic administration is highly unlikely to continue a punitive approach to the states allowing legal use of recreational or medical cannabis.